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Coast Guard Rescues 71 From Overturned Boat

Aired May 10, 2002 - 11:12   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We have a development happening right now here in our hemisphere. This is happening in the Caribbean right now. We understand that there is a boat that has capsized with perhaps as many as 100 Haitians on board.

We're joined right now on the telephone by Lieutenant Commander Ron Lebrecht. He's with the U.S. Coast Guard, and he's actually been out there on the operations that have been trying to basically save as many people as they can and figure out exactly what happened.

Commander Lebrecht, can you give us an idea of what's going on there right now?

RON LEBRECHT, LT. COMDR., U.S. COAST GUARD: Good morning.

We have the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane (ph) on scene with the 35-foot sailing vessel that we believe had about 60 to 100 Haitians on board. The vessel capsized about 4:00 AM today. The crew members from the Harriet Lane (ph) were able to rescue 71 survivors so far. They have also recovered two deceased people.

We have a large operation going on with the Harriet Lane (ph). Several aircraft from our anti-drug operation in the Bahamas, as well as several Bahamian vessels that are trying to find any additional survivors.

HARRIS: Do you have any kind of idea the number -- the actual number of survivors you may be looking for? Because these kinds of ships don't normally travel with a manifest.

LEBRECHT: That's correct. These vessels are usually about 35 to 50 feet long; sailing vessels very poorly constructed. They carry anywhere between 60 and several hundred personnel on board. The people are frequently packed aboard on the decks and below in small cargo holds. So it's very difficult to determine how many people are on board at this time.

HARRIS: Now this is an actual boat we're talking about here. We've seen shots of these makeshift vessels or rafts or whatever you want to call them in the past. What we're talking about now is an actual boat?

LEBRECHT: Well it's a sailing vessel, generally homemade. You know, constructed on the island there. They're not well constructed at all. They're definitely incapable of safely carrying a large number of people.

HARRIS: What caused it to capsize? Do you know?

LEBRECHT: Well, at this point, we don't know exactly what caused it to capsize, other than we know it was severely overloaded. There were people packing the boat. We were bringing one of our small boats alongside, and what we generally do is try to bring life jackets for all those on board, because the vessels are always very nearly in danger of sinking.

HARRIS: Yeah. Can you tell us do you know where they were heading? Were they heading for the Bahamas or the U.S.?

LEBRECHT: Most of the people that leave Haiti on these small vessels leave and try to get into the Bahamian islands, or they do try to get directly into the United States. The Coast Guard patrols the Windward Passage (ph), which is the water in that area, not only to deter drug smugglers, which also frequent the area, but in order to detect these small vessels because many people have died at sea on them.

HARRIS: Well it's fortunate for those people that you are there patrolling that area. Lieutenant Commander Ron Lebrecht of the U.S. Coast Guard, we thank you very much. We'll let you get back to your work and we'll check back with you later on for some further updates on that situation -- Daryn, over to you.

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